Inflatable tank appears in Taiwan to mark anniversary of Tiananmen Square protests

Artwork's inscription pays tribute to people who have resisted China’s ‘gigantic autocracy’

Adam Forrest
Saturday 01 June 2019 22:18
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Taiwanese man takes a selfie with an inflatable tank installation in Taipei square
Taiwanese man takes a selfie with an inflatable tank installation in Taipei square

An artist has erected an inflatable tank display in Taiwan’s capital to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in China.

The balloon installation, which stands in front of Taipei’s famous Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, depicts the iconic encounter between a Chinese citizen and the military tanks in Beijing.

The “tank man” standoff – captured by several photographers on 4 June, 1989 – has become a global symbol of political defiance. Hundreds of people in Taipei came to look at the installation on Saturday, with many taking selfies and photos of the artwork.

An inscription for the artwork, reportedly the work of Taiwanese artist Shake, states that Taiwan stands with the people who have never ceased to resist the “gigantic autocracy”.

While public remembrances of the Tiananmen protests remain strictly forbidden in mainland China, there are regular commemorations in democratically governed Taiwan – which split from China in 1949, though Beijing still claims the island as part of its territory.

Tuesday will mark 30 years since the infamous crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests, led by students based in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.

The government sent armed troops and armoured military vehicles into the city centre to enforce martial law and forcibly clear the streets of demonstrators overnight from 3 June into 4 June.

The death toll from the crackdown has been estimated from several hundred to thousands of people, but the Chinese authorities have never provided official figures.

The ruling Communist Party punishes citizens who dare to speak publicly about the events of 1989. While some people inside China are unaware of the protests, others have learned about it through smuggled DVDs and software used to scale the internet firewall.

Chinese dissident Wu Yenhua, who left China for the US following the protests in 1989, is now a scholar in Taiwan and paid a visit to the inflatable tank. Mr Wu witnessed the crackdown on student activists and has been researching the massacre.

“I want to record history so that Chinese [people] in future will know that on their land, this disaster occurred,” he said.

Chinese dissident Wu Yenhua next to artwork in Taipei

Earlier this week Amnesty International claimed China had detained or threatened dozens of people seeking to commemorate the victims of the Tianamen massacre, calling on the authorities to end the “wave of persecution”.

A US photographer who shot one of the iconic images of the man standing in front of tanks has said it is time for the Chinese government to acknowledge the events of 30 years ago.

Jeff Widener, an Associated Press photo editor covering China’s student-led pro-democracy at the time of the Tiananmen protests, took the “tank man” shot showing the unknown citizen holding shopping bags while facing a row of tanks.

“The United States and European countries have made mistakes throughout history and they've reconciled those problems,” said Mr Widener.

“I think it’s time for China to move forward and just come clean on what happened, report to the family members what happened to their loved ones so that they can put this to rest,” he added. “I think that’s the right, decent thing to do.”

The man captured in the “tank man” photo moved at least twice to block the tanks and climbed on the turret of one to converse with a crew member.

Eventually, he was whisked from the scene by two men in blue, whose identities, like that of the man himself, have never been revealed.

Additional reporting by AP

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